By Yunus S Saliu
One among other categories of cultural sites in The Gambia that is of national reputation attracting visitors and international tourists is the Nyankusita tree known as the Sacred Baobab Tree located in the historical island of Janjanbureh in Central River Region (CRR).
Like other cultural sites scattered across Destination Gambia, Nyankusita is an important living Baobab tree of over 200 years old with strong history attached to the island of Janjangbureh. It is a sacred tree where male children for initiation got circumcised inside the inner chamber of the Nyankusita tree without any idea of who circumcised them.
This over 200 years old Sacred Baobab tree has an opening door likes for entrance and is cool inside while the outer body looks fresh and healthy.
According to the history of Nyankusita, as narrated by Musa Foon, one of the National Centre for Arts and Culture museum attendants attached to the Kankurang Museum Centre, Janjangbureh, initiation of children in the olden days started from the Nyakusita sacred tree.
Musa who is also a tour guide explained that then when it is time for children’s initiation, also known as male circumcision, it is under the Nyankusita the elders gather for a meeting and plan for the year’s initiation of the children.
According to him, calling for this meeting is done especially without any word alters from the town crier or messenger except that an old man will dress all in red attire to walk around the community.
Then “there was no formal system of making the announcement, but the only means recognized was that an older man will dress in all red – red shoes, clothes and cap to walk around the community. And immediately elders in the community see him they know straight that there is a community meeting, an emergency one for that matter scheduled for that day at 5:00 pm under Nyankusita tree,” Musa explained.
It is under this sacred tree elders will gather to plan the date, cultural activities, and type of Kankurang that will be allowed to come and protect the children of the community during the initiation.
It is worth knowing that during such meetings, no women are allow coming to Nyankusita, and “even uncircumcised boys or boys below the age of 20 are forbidden around the tree at that particular time unless they are among children for circumcision.”
The highlight of this Sacred Baobab tree is when the children arrive for initiation. They will form a queue while their fathers stand behind them. The children will enter the Nyankusita tree one after the other through the opening (covered with cotton) alone to receive initiation, while the father waited outside for his son’s return. When any of the children are inside the inner chamber of the Nyankusita nobody knows what goes on inside except when people outside, of sudden, will hear the screaming from the child inside.
“When such child come outside from the tree, he will be found circumcised without nobody who can tell or have an idea of how or who circumcised him inside the Nyankusita tree,” Musa affirmed.
“This is real and it is done out of some supernatural powers because no one knows or can tell how any child that enters inside the Nyankusita is been circumcised or what circumcises them when they are inside it,” he emphasized.
So, “when the child comes out the father will give him cloths to wear and cut the leaves of Nyankusita chew it, and spit the water in the wound or the cut of the circumcised boy for healing, this will be done to all of them.”